It is a fact of life all over the Inuit
homeland in Arctic Canada that the progeny of Qallunaat (White People)
have existed for generations amongst Inuit. The earliest forbears of
these were explorers, whalers, traders, policemen, and numerous assorted
others. Very few of these ever left a name, address, or some other
tangible reference by which their Inuit descendents could touch, feel,
and know their Qallunaaq ancestor.
In recent years, interest in Qallunaat
ancestry has been heightened among Inuit people related by such ancestry
from far-flung locations finding each other. Some have come across each
other through research triggered by enlightened curiosity. Others do so
literally by accident. Detective work is the order, and it is mostly hit
and miss. Some who suspect shared ancestry from one individual can never
be absolutely sure. Names, dates, and records can be very sketchy, if
they exist at all.
Inuit of mixed ancestry have endured a
variety of social and personal stresses. People of mixed Inuit/Qallunaat
parentage are so common today that it may seem odd to consider that any
tension ever existed among full-blooded Inuit and half-breeds. But such
tensions have been an obvious fact of life in Inuit society for as long
as such people have been around. This tension is very hard to describe
in clinical exactness, because its manifestations are as diverse as
human nature, personality, and character.
In my parents’ generation, it took the form
of being looked down upon, of being made to feel not quite whole. If one
had the misfortune to be part Qallunaaq, it was not unusual to be
treated as a psychological outcast. One was made certain to know how you
were not really, truly, an Inuk. In addition to the petty cruelties
inflicted upon half-breeds for being born as such, there was the
obviousness of illegitimacy. Most unions producing such offspring were
not based in Holy Matrimony.
As a result of enduring these stresses
during some part of their lives, Qallunaangajuit (part Qallunaaq
half-breeds) compensated by “out-Eskimo-ing the Eskimos” in many aspects
Half-breeds were generally more
indiscriminate and deliberate in the practice of traditional life; from
eating the most rotten igunaq (fermented meat), to possessing
respectable repertoires of unikkaatuat (stories and legends), and
being expert in the ancient skills. No revenge was sweeter than to
demonstrate by living example that they were as human beings just as
valuable as any who might have felt superior.
From where do I speak of this? My late
mother was the daughter of an Inuk mother and a Scottish father.
William Mackenzie Peter was a Scotsman who
worked for the French trading company, Revillon Frères, in the 1920’s.
He had a sister named Winifred, for whom he insisted my mother be named.
He is remembered as being very friendly to Inuit; that, he certainly was
to my grandmother. He left, as did so many others, leaving no trace
other than the child he fathered by an Inuk woman. His biography, as far
as we knew it, was his name, and his country of origin.
All her life, my mother carried an un-fulfillable
desire to know her biological father. She insisted that my first-born
son be named William Mackenzie, after the father she was destined never
to have. One of my mother’s great pleasures was being able to say,
“Ataataak! (Father!)” to my son.
What would it take to find that piece of
paper, that photograph, in which I would find a missing piece of myself?
A visit to France to search out Revillon Frères records? A trip to
Scotland to publicize the tattered scraps of his biography? Scores of
families across the Arctic who share such unfilled blanks in their
family picture also had such questions echoing in their lives.
As grandchildren of this man, my siblings
and I never had the slightest interest in knowing about the man for most
of our years. This wasn’t because of any hard feelings; just
indifference made normal by never having known anything about him, other
than his name. With so little to go on, searching for him seemed a
Originally, the idea of a search was for my
mother’s sake. But, as I took on the task, it transformed into pursuit
of fulfillment for me, my brothers and sisters, and our growing crowd of
grandchildren. I had no illusions about the daunting challenge of
finding anything. Even holding a photograph would do in the event of
finding nothing else. In a quest such as this, even little would be
This is the story of my search for my
family’s Scottish roots…
Tells you the story
of how he and 2 friends were tricked by Pierre E. Trudeau and Jean
Chretien to become the instruments of the forced assimilation of their
own people. They were later bannished from their communities and
suffered serious personal problems.
The videos show below come from the above
Nanook of the North
Nanook of the North (also known as Nanook
of the North: A Story Of Life and Love In the Actual Arctic) is a 1922
American silent documentary film by Robert J. Flaherty, with elements of
docudrama, at a time when separating films into documentary and drama
did not yet exist.
In the tradition of what would later be called salvage ethnography,
Flaherty captured the struggles of the Inuk man named Nanook and his
family in the Canadian Arctic. The film is considered the first
feature-length documentary. Some have criticized Flaherty for staging
several sequences, but the film is generally viewed as standing "alone
in its stark regard for the courage and ingenuity of its heroes."
How to Build an Igloo 1950
Inuit life on Baffin Island during the changing seasons, 1952
is a classic record of the last days of
genuine out-on-the-land life, as Inuit lived it in the period prior to
becoming permanent towns people. The air of joyous renewal and
rejuvenation surrounding aullaat, the whole camp moving to new grounds,
is portrayed in its splendid fullness. The excitement and high drama of
the whale hunt is also captured accurately.
Eskimo Family, 1959
The Living Stone
This documentary shows the inspiration behind Inuit sculpture. The Inuit
approach to the work is to release the image the artist sees imprisoned
in the rough stone. The film centres on an old legend about the carving
of the image of a sea spirit to bring food to a hungry camp.
The Inuit and their Hunting Habits
In this documentary from 1980 anthropologist Hugh Brodie researches the
remote Inuit people of the Arctic region. The historic film shows how
the hunting of caribous, mooses, seals and other animals played a
central role in their life.
The Eskimo - fight for life
NFB Documentary from 1970
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